Et tu, brutalism?

Brutalism is a style of architecture… that much I knew already. And when I saw this building in Wellington a few weeks ago, that was the word that jumped into my head. But is that really how to describe this building?

Luckily, I can just dial up the Wikipedia article on brutalism… and so now I can say with more confidence: yes, that’s pretty much what brutalism looks like, although there are more extreme examples. Unfinished concrete, geometric shapes, minimal ornamentation… check, check, check. Brutalism often makes the building’s inner workings more prominent, like having the elevator shafts on the outside or otherwise exposing the building’s intended purpose. I didn’t see that done here, although it will be worth a return trip to look again sometime.

Brutalism has passionate followers even today, but has largely gone out of fashion as being soulless and making you feel like Big Totalitarian Brother is looming over you all the time. Certainly I would hesitate before venturing into National Office with whatever civic problem might bring me there. To quote The Living, an excellent movie I saw this weekend, “in the meantime we’ll just leave your petition here, it’ll do no harm.”

Hot Like a Mexican!

That’s Andres, and he sells the best tacos in New Zealand under the moniker Hot Like A Mexican. I was so glad somebody in our Expats Facebook group posted about this place, just a hole in the wall in Wellington.

Aura Hotel Wellington

Last week was busy in Wellington, such that none of the hotels on the Ministry’s approved list were available. Not wanting to cancel the trip, I pushed a bit and got them to approve a stay at the Aura.

Fantastic location, cheap price, but many bad reviews…

Above is the nice-enough view from my window on an early drizzly morning. Well, not my room exactly, but the common area shared by my pod of six rooms, whose only windows gave onto the corridor and were therefore worse than useless… they let in unwanted noise and light and for what?

The Aura lives inside the James Smith Corner building, which was a big department store for most of its life. There were still some original 1930s details here and there.

So why and how does the Aura exist? There were too many little problems and weirdnesses to list here, but I can see why they had vacancy when all the other places were full. I’m glad I got to make the trip as planned, and nothing actually bad happened at the hotel, but I wouldn’t choose to stay there again.

Commonwealth Walkway Wellington

Although it’s the unexpected flair seen on manhole covers and other kinds of ‘utilitarian’ street furniture that first caught my eye, I’m not immune to the more intentional charms of plaques like this one.

It’s part of the Commonwealth Walkway project, which hopes to get people out walking more by commemorating important sites around Wellington and other cities, installing some plaques, and infusing the whole thing with a spritz of royal patronage. Although I’m generally in favor of this sort of feel-good project , I know that one of the many reasons political life doesn’t appeal to me is the thought of so many such efforts, all needing (and deserving to whatever extent) to be Taken Quite Seriously.

Not where you’d expect it

We’ve been taught to believe, thanks to our exposure to Hollywood movies, that in order to find platform 9 3/4 you have to bash yourself into a brick post and hope that the magic works for you.

But in the Wellington train station, things are slightly easier. There’s a big sign. You still have to pay attention, because platform 9 3/4 is not where you expect it, but rather tucked somewhere between platforms six and seven. Even so, I find it quite generous of the Wellington Wizarding community to be so helpful.

Wellington wrap up

A few final photos and thoughts from last week’s trip to Wellington….

This statue is decorated with words from the writings of Wellington beloved author Katherine Mansfield.

Smaug and me having a moment in the Wellington airport.

A whole lotta architecture going on.


We took the hourlong tour of the NZ Parliament complex just after our walk through the garden. No photos allowed inside, so sadly we didn’t get to record our young tour guide. Her nametag said Cora, or maybe Carla, but that didn’t matter… it was obvious that her real name was Hermione.

The complex has three very distinct buildings… the modern Beehive (mostly offices, some like it, some don’t, according to Hermione/Cora), and the Edwardian neo-classical section with the actual legislative chamber, both above. Below, the Victorian Gothic Revival library building.

We intended to go sit in and listen to debate, but the gallery was full, owing to the agenda being taken up of valedictory speeches and MP’s friends and family occupying all the seats. It’s somehow awesome that Parliament here has the same feeling as a high school basketball game when the underdog team unexpectedly makes it to the state championships.

Wellington Botanic Garden

We spent a nice hour at the Wellington Botanic Garden on our little mini-vacay. The easiest way to see the garden is to ride the cable car up to the top and stroll down.

The Carter Observatory is on the same grounds, but was closed that day. Sad.

The Japanese maple showed a certain frizziness that Lee is all too familiar with in this humid climate.

This bench commemorates the life and works of a former head gardener whose name – if one believes what one reads on commemorative benches – was Mr. Moss.

This tui bird gave us quite a show, but I didn’t get a good shot of his distinctive white throat plumage.

Baby ducks.

Some of the themed gardens, like the roses and camellias, weren’t blooming much, but overall it was a beautiful spot on a lovely day.


Wellington lives on government and related activities. There’s a big part of me that sympathises with the desk-bound civil servants yearning for a little self-expression who, I hope, buy and then actually wear these bad boys and bad girls.


This platform on the Wellington waterfront invites you to just jump in. It might be 20′ to the surface of the water, and it must be cold, and this is the busy part of the harbor. All in all, no thanks.

I think this could only be built in a country with a national accident insurance plan.

Blog at

Up ↑